Kangourou Publicité pour le slip Kangourou, 1948 Collection particulière _ © DR
Museum exhibitions

Discover the Underworld Under Garments

Kangourou Publicité pour le slip Kangourou, 1948 Collection particulière _ © DR
A Kangourou ad presented in a selection of advertising videos

Sir, where did you get that silhouette? Back in time, if you saw a knight  wearing armor or a noble  prancing around in tights, you would have noticed a discreet bulge between his legs. Until November 24La mécanique des dessous, une histoire indiscrète de la silhouette (Mechanical undergarments, an indiscreet history of the silhouette) explores this ‘underworld’.

The Musée des Arts décoratifs displays female and male undergarments fashioned to artificially attain an ideal of beauty and a desirable silhouette through mechanical under garments. The exhibition covers the fourteenth century until today.

Some of the artificial undergarments presented in the exhibition are the fly, the pannier, the corset, the crinoline, the bustle, the pouf, the stomach belt, the bra and other vestimentary devices fashioning the body by means of whalebones, hoops and cushions according to the changing dictates of fashion.

Videos The exhibition includes videos of advertisements, movie excerpts of women dressing in the mechanical garments, a dress-up room with cages, bustles, bustiers and a plastic surgeon’s body-sculpting video. Torso Mannequins close out the exhibit reflecting each specific period in the history of fashion. Men and women are subject to the current “cultural body” rather than the “natural body”.

The exhibition’s “Teaser videos” present the use of hinges on the “mechanical garments” to get in, out and through tricky places like doorways and sitting down. The teaser videos include the

  • Robe à la polonaise using cords the dress transforms into three styles (1772),
  • Tournure (faux cul) women accented their behind
  • Panier articulé – the fashion item with hinges to extend a woman’s hips. They raised the “panier” to pass through door ways.
  • Corset -The first corsets were made of hinged metal
  • The crinoline was used to maintain a wide skirt, originally made with horse hair (étoffe de crin) and either whale bone or steel kept the shape.

    Portrait of Henry IV of Navarre and his codpiece; image from Huffington Post-Original copyright information unknown
    Portrait of Henry IV of Navarre and his codpiece

What else is in the exhibit

Cultural Body Fashion Victims Virility is why the knights, royalty and aristocrats in the armor or the puffy pantaloons displayed the discreet bulge of the codpiece. Codpieces were built into the armor. They were sewn into clothes and portrayed in portraits and may have been precursors of the zipper. Metal corsets were popular with women from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. The corsets were meant to “give a finer waist” and “to widen hips and uplift the bosom” or to follow the vogue in medical reasoning as a remedy to a curved spine.

Pourpoint de Charles de Blois, dernier quart du XIV latter 1300s, Lyon, Musée des Tissus et des Arts décoratifs, lift of Julien Chappée, 1924 © Lyon, musée des tissus, photo Pierre Verrie
Pourpoint de Charles de Blois, after 1370s-Snug-fitted and quilted-appearance of masculinity

From the sixteenth century it was also fashionable to have a rounded torso. For men the culotte à braquette or the braguette in the armor casing begins its protrusion from the collar. The puffiness thanks to the braguette gives the appearance of the peascod belly. Puffiness and masculinity continued Into the early 1800s as men wore padding in their coats, corsets and calf pads to accentuate the shapeliness if their legs. The switch from puffiness arrived by the 1880s and early twentieth century. “Dandies” and other men flaunted slim, muscular bodies and wore fashionable body sculpting underwear. Disguising rounded bellies on men became an advertising source for the Franck-Braun belts in the 1920s.

Children and dolls did not escape body reshaping. Examples are on display of corsets and stays to give the child “a straight body and a virtuous soul”. The few dolls on display were used to teach dressing them up just like grown ups. Entertaining ads The advertising video of undergarment men and women is going to be good for your laugh muscles. Why exercise for 30 days when you could have a natural looking shape for eighteen hours. Sunglasses make clothing transparent as the women watch the men walk around in their underwear. Eggs are put in men’s underwear to demonstrate padding differences between brands. And watch out wearing that Wonderbra in the elevator.

Turbulence with the Crinoline The crinoline to give a full skirt was popular from 1840-1870. Between picnics, omnibuses and theaters, the style caused design turbulence. The lithograph crinoline illustrations show what happens at a picnic or in a windstorm (imagine an umbrella). There was talk of demolishing theaters to accommodate the crinoline. Théophile Gautier in the journal De la Mode 1858″…women will no sooner give up crinoline than face powder,” wrote . The bustle or pouf of 1880s meant women could walk straight and avoid throwing their back out for shapely, rounded derriere or faux-cul (false backside).

The French page can be translated in Google (translate.google.com) The exhibition brochure Selection of catalogue photos from La mécanique des dessous, une histoire indiscrète de la silhouette in the Musée des Arts décoratifs archives.

Les Arts Décoratifs – Mode et textile 107 rue de Rivoli 75001 Paris Tél. : 01 44 55 57 50 Métro : Palais-Royal, Pyramides ou Tuileries Autobus : 21, 27, 39, 48, 68, 69, 72, 81, 95